James MacDonald, pastor and founder of Harvest Bible Chapel, with the support of his board of elders and congregation has decided to sue a couple of his critics who he believes are responsible for 2,000 of the church’s 13,000 members leaving.
I am not so concerned with the legal issues or facts of the case as I am with the rationale behind forsaking Paul’s admonitions about suing in First Corinthians 6:1-9.
In an article published in Christianity Today titled “James MacDonald: Why Suing is Sometimes the Biblical Choice,” the mega-church pastor offers the following: “Harvest Bible Chapel has not strayed from its 30-year commitment to the unapologetic preaching of God’s word, nor have we forgotten the explicit teaching of 1Corinthians 6:1-9. We’d like to share our biblical rationale for reluctantly deciding to take our critics to court.”
A questionable rationale
Part of his rationale is how evolving cultural circumstances have influenced the church’s understanding of biblical truth. He cites the changing views on divorce among church leaders as a response to divorce rates and changing attitudes among believers regarding Paul’s qualifications for church leaders in First Timothy 3:1-13.
There has been some debate as to what Paul’s requirement that a church leader must be “the husband of one wife” means. Some think Paul was referring to divorce, but he could have addressed the matter of divorce directly by using the word itself rather than the phrase “the husband of one wife.”
Given the historical and cultural background Paul’s epistle was written in, the phrase “the husband of one wife,” seems to be an admonition against polygamy and not divorce. The church’s understanding and application of Paul’s letter to Timothy may have changed, but the divine truth contained in it did not.
It is a fallacy of the first order to think an evolving culture requires an evolving understanding and application of the Scriptures. It assumes the omniscient God who inspired the Scriptures is myopic and that is an assumption I am not willing to make.
MacDonald seems to be saying our understanding of Paul’s teaching about lawsuits should have evolved. Here is what Paul said. “I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?” 1 Corinthians 6:5-6.
MacDonald said the issue here was trivial, but Paul’s language implies otherwise. Of course, the issue itself is trivial when compared to the conflict within the church that threatens to distract it from its mission and compromises its testimony in the community.
Why not rather be wronged?
Leading Paul to question, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” 1 Corinthians 6:7. Paul’s plain meaning is it would be better to be wronged than to be distracted from our calling or weaken our witness.
I do not know what MacDonald and his church hope to gain, but I do not think it will be worth it.